ESPN Rolls Out Animations Package, Returns TrussCam for Little League World Series

ESPN is back in Williamsport, PA, this week, applying its trademark “country fair and apple pie” approach to the production of all 32 games of the 2015 Little League World Series. The LLWS, which kicked off on Thursday and features five games on ABC and 28 on ESPN and ESPN2, has become an August tradition of sorts for ESPN’s overall baseball coverage.

Throughout the week, much of ESPN’s live studio programming, including almost daily editions of SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, originates from Williamsport, helping the network capture the down-home ambiance and American tradition so central to the LLWS.

ESPN is once again on hand for the LLWS.

ESPN is once again on hand for the LLWS.

“From an ESPN standpoint, we are trying to educate viewers that Little League Baseball is all about the community and getting together to teach kids how to play the game the right way and play with sportsmanship,” says ESPN Coordinating Producer Matt Sandulli. “It sounds corny, but that is everything that Little League baseball is supposed to be, and that is what we are trying bring home to the viewer.”

Tradition, Tradition, Tradition!
Although there is no shortage of tech toys at the production team’s disposal this week, Sandulli stresses that the LLWS show centers on capturing the tradition and innocence of the game.

ESPN developed a brand-new animations package for this year's LLWS.

ESPN developed a brand-new animations package for this year’s LLWS.

“[MLB] Commissioner Rob Manfred said it the best when he said, ‘What other sport has their 12-year-old championship televised?’ It’s so true,” Sandulli said of a recent interview with the commissioner by LLWS anchor Karl Ravech. “The essence of Little League Baseball is so true to this country, and everyone can identify with it. So what we are trying to get home to everybody is that these are 12- and 13-year-old boys that are playing a game and trying to do it the right way: with sportsmanship, dignity, and class.”

Animations Package Plays to Videogame Lovers
ESPN’s Creative Services team was enlisted to create a fresh LLWS graphics/animations package that would appeal to the younger demographic. With that in mind, the team intensively researched and interviewed Little Leaguers in order to build a package around their interests — most notably, videogames. In the end, the Creative Services team came up with “a game-within-the-game environment that felt like it belonged within the fun, carnival-like world that is Williamsport,” according to ESPN Art Director Bob Bates.

ESPN's new LLWS animations package takes on a videogame look aimed at appealing to a younger demographic.

ESPN’s new LLWS animations package takes on a videogame look aimed at appealing to a younger demographic.

In addition, ESPN’s LLWS coverage has adopted the new insert graphic package that the network has instituted across many of its properties.

The TrussCam is back for its second tour of duty at Lamade Stadium — now equipped with a wider-angle lens than last year’s. Positioned on a trolley beyond the left-center/right-centerfield wall, the wireless robotic camera system features a 360-degree gyro-stabilized camera and captures sweeping shots of action on the field and of the crowd behind the fence. The system is controlled by two operators onsite: one to drive the camera on the track, the other to operate the pan/tilt/zoom functions of the camera itself.

“[The wider-angle lens] will add a little bit different look to it,” says Sandulli. “The TrussCam provided that intimate fly-on-the-wall look as you circle around from left field to right field, but, honestly, I think the biggest strides we made last year were in the amount of actual game coverage we got out of it. I think, this year, we are just going to push that more. We are going to really try to capture more movement following a ball into the gap and outfielders chasing after it. You won’t see that in a live scenario, but you will see more replays of that than last year. It’s a very cool element.”

In addition to the TrussCam, ESPN has deployed 16 cameras at Lamade (12 for game coverage) and 10 cameras at Volunteer Stadium, as well as a blimp (DirecTV Blimp was on hand for the first weekend; Goodyear Blimp will provide aerial coverage for championship weekend).

ESPN will also once again be miking coaches and umpires and feature “wired” replay to provide insight and instant reactions.

Inside the production compound at Lamade Stadium

Inside the production compound at Lamade Stadium

Also back for its second year is the production compound located on the outfield hill at Lamade. Prior to last year, the network worked with Little League to build out the new compound, which was farther from the action than ESPN’s previous location just outside the Lamade gates.

“The compound turned out great last year,” says Sandulli. “The biggest worry from our end was that we were going to be too far away from things, but it ended up creating our own little village for us. It’s nice to have the space and not be on top of each other, so it worked out really well. We made a few adjustments this year — cable runs and other stuff — to make our lives a little bit easier this year.”

Features Team Goes Into Overdrive
ESPN’s features team is also churning out content from Williamsport to capture the sense of Americana at LLWS. To produce content, the network has deployed a 10-person team along with two editors, split into day and night shifts. Two ENG cameras are also on hand for the full run, and a third was onsite for the opening five days.

“The features unit is pumping here and constantly working around the clock,” says Sandulli. “So there is a lot of firepower in that room. They are creating content constantly that is going to air everywhere — not only in games but on SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, and the digital side. Their content gets used everywhere, and they are working hard.”

A new open, featuring a summer-camp theme set to the band 1985’s popular “Summer Forever” track, was created onsite. Previously, ESPN conducted shoots for the open in advance, but, this year, the network opted to shoot content with each team in Williamsport.